First M.E.T. student graduates, a year early

Avathika Ramesh
Avanthika Ramesh is the first grad in the undergraduate M.E.T. program.

Avanthika Ramesh has more than one “first” under her belt. Not only is she the first student to finish UC Berkeley’s Management, Entrepreneurship & Technology (M.E.T.) program, she’s also the first to finish a year early.

A joint program launched in 2017 by Berkeley Haas and the College of Engineering, M.E.T. allows students to earn two undergraduate degrees in business and engineering in four years. Ramesh did it in three.

“It was an amazing experience,” said the 20-year-old, who is now at home in Georgia, working remotely for Salesforce in its competitive two-year Associate Product Manager program.

“An amazing young woman”

Undergraduates admitted to M.E.T. combine business courses with one of six engineering tracks. They spend time in class at both schools throughout the four years.

Michael Grimes, EECS 87, the head of Global Technology Investment Banking at Morgan Stanley and the founder of the M.E.T. Program, said Avanthika took full advantage of the M.E.T. curriculum, which offers deep technology skills, along with management and leadership education. “As a rising star associate product manager at Salesforce she is putting those skills to use with her trademark poise, excellence, and empathy,” he said. “The sky’s the limit with Avanthika.”

The sky’s the limit with Avanthika.

“She’s one of the most glorious students I’ve ever had the honor of working with,” said Chris Dito, executive director of the M.E.T. program. “She’s smart and humble and eager for information. She’s an amazing young woman and her accolades speak for themselves.”

A change in plan

It was almost by chance that Ramesh ended up in the M.E.T. program at all.

She planned to study electrical engineering and computer science (EECS). But when she was applying, she spied an option on the application to do EECS only, or EECS + Business. “I thought I’d give it a shot and picked the ‘EECS + Business’ option,” she said.

Soon after, she was invited to submit a supplemental essay for the M.E.T. program. After learning more about the program, she got excited about it.

Avanthika Ramesh with her classmates in MET
Ramesh (first row, third from right) at Berkeley’s M.E.T. (Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology Program) new student orientation. Photo: Noah Berger

A budding entrepreneur, Ramesh said she was drawn to taking integrated coursework from Berkeley Haas and the College of Engineering.

“M.E.T. offered what I wanted to do in the future, but I never knew there was a program out there,” said Ramesh, who in high school founded her own tutoring business, HiFive Tutoring.

“What I learned from Haas was so useful for me,” she added. “Haas courses like marketing, finance, business communication, and organizational behavior, which in particular was one of the most useful classes for me, taught me a lot.”

She credits those courses in helping her to grow HiFive Tutoring from 15 to more than 500 clients. The dual major also allowed her to participate in hackathons and business competitions at Haas, as well as take on research and undergraduate student instructor opportunities.

While participating in case competition training workshops over the weekends, Ramesh said she received valuable mentorship from Dresden John, the undergraduate student experience manager, and Finance Lecturer Steve Etter.

An MBA in the future

Although she took on extra credits that enabled her to graduate early, Ramesh made time on the weekends to take morning hikes on the Berkeley fire trails, explored the city, and tried out restaurants in Berkeley and Oakland. She said her most memorable Haas moments were attending the Haas Gala and Haas Formal.

Haas Gala with Avanthika Ramesh
Avanthika Ramesh (left) at the Annual Haas Gala with friends.

Ramesh said she’s planning to earn an MBA in the future. She’s already been admitted to three MBA programs, including Berkeley Haas through the Accelerated Access program for UC Berkeley seniors, which lets students defer for several years to work. Ramesh will spend the next two years at Salesforce, training in product management at departments across the company.

“All of us in the Salesforce APM program are very strong in computer science but also have a lot of experience in business, leadership, and entrepreneurship” she said. “Salesforce wanted just that combination that M.E.T. prepared me for.”

 

Startup Diaries: SuperPetFoods places second at LAUNCH, BumpR retools

Note: Berkeley Haas News followed two of this year’s 25 teams participating in LAUNCH, an accelerator for UC startup founders that has helped create more than 200 companies since 2015. At last Friday’s Demo Day finals, 10 UC teams remotely pitched VCs and angel investors, competing for $70,000 in funding. Startup SuperPetFoods made the finals; BumpR did not.

Superpetfoods team slide
Mar introducing her team members at Demo Day.

María (Mar) del Mar Londoño, MBA 21 and CEO of SuperPetFoods, headed into last week’s LAUNCH Demo Day finals determined. After failing to place in the top three at last month’s Hult Prize Global Regional Competition in Bogotá and the 2020 Rabobank-MIT Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize finals, she’d buffed up the startup’s presentation, polished answers to potential questions, and emerged ready to win.

Her team’s efforts paid off, as SuperPetFoods took second place (and was voted audience choice) at LAUNCH Demo Day May 1, netting $20,000 to move into the summer phase of developing her eco-friendly dehydrated pet food, made from black soldier fly larvae. Digiventures, a Berkeley Haas MBA led team that built a platform enabling Latin American customers to be evaluated for credit, took the top prize.

Missing from Demo Day, however, was BumpR, an undergraduate team aiming to produce an inexpensive Internet of Things (IoT) device that drivers mount on their cars to easily collect data over geographic areas. The startup, founded by Armaan Goel, Aishwarya (Ash) Mahesh, Shreya Shekhar, all M.E.T. 23 students, and Justin Quan, BS 23 (Electrical Engineering & Computer Science), didn’t make it to the finals, mainly because the team pivoted right before the semifinals and ran out of time to do the necessary customer interviews to vet their new idea.

BumpR will continue to work on the idea at UC Berkeley’s SkyDeck this fall, as a SkyDeck Hot Desk team. Rhonda Shrader, the executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP), which sponsors LAUNCH, also helped the team apply for a $25,000 VentureWell grant to prototype and test their product. “The lessons we learned along the way under the guidance of all the LAUNCH faculty will stick with us whether it’s with this product idea or another,” Ash said.

“The lessons we learned along the way under the guidance of all the LAUNCH faculty will stick with us whether it’s with this product idea or another.”

Mar presenting at LAUNCH Demo Day
Mar makes the case that dogs love SuperPetFoods’ product at LAUNCH Demo Day.

We spoke to Mar, who founded the company with Thais Esteves, MBA 21, and Gina Myers, MS 20 (bioengineering), about LAUNCH and what’s next for SuperPetFoods.

What was the biggest challenge participating in LAUNCH during the coronavirus crisis?

There were many challenges. The first was managing the emotional stress that coronavirus brought to this— worrying about your family and evaluating your priorities. As a team leader my biggest challenge was being able to give my team the space they needed while seeing this project as something that could make them feel excited about the future. That’s a difficult balance. You want to give them their space but you also want people to be engaged.

Another challenge was the operational part. Literally, we had to start cooking the food in Washington state, where Gina is staying in her family’s cabin. All the people we contacted to do pet food trials are in Berkeley or the Bay Area.

So Gina is cooking the food you plan to send out for trials this summer?

Gina preparing the food
Gina preparing the food that’s made with the high-protein black soldier fly. Her dog Qora is chief taster.

Yes. Dogs are lucky to have a trained chef from the Culinary Institute of America cooking for them. At this point, Gina has everything she needs to start cooking: a recipe that offers complete nutrition that was formulated with a board-certified pet nutritionist, and the required machinery: a dehydrator and a bag sealer. Our target for the summer is to give 100 free samples to friends, family, and people who have shown interest through Facebook ads.

Depending on feedback we get from people, we’ll be able to go on to a bigger scale and go to local pet food stores. We are at a stage where we are literally testing how people feel about a pet food that is highly disruptive. It’s not only that it’s made of insects. It’s also dehydrated, so people need to add water, stir and serve. This format is more nutritious and tasty for dogs, so we have the hypothesis that pet parents will like it and prefer it to kibble. But that’s for us to test.

You plan is to eventually produce the food in your native Colombia. What’s the timeline this summer?

Producing in Colombia will give us a cost advantage and that is a crucial element of our operational model. However, we are focusing our efforts on two fronts this summer: testing product market fit and building the brand identity.  First, we need to collect feedback on our product. All of our work so far was gathering consumer insights and understanding their sentiment around feeding their pets insects. Now we will get their feedback with an actual product. Second, we need to develop the brand identity and translate that into a website, package, and logo. We already conducted an A/B test that proved that  the sustainability angle has more appeal than the nutritional one. Next step is to define which tone to convey around sustainability. We need to identify which is more effective: the loving, caring, tree-hugger kind of tone, or the more vigorous approach targeting changemakers who are empowered to make a change in the world.

What was most valuable about the LAUNCH experience?

Belonging to a cohort of collaborative teams. The collective brainstorming when you present progress and roadblocks, and having the other teams there. They help you think  and you can identify elements from listening to them that might be useful for you—like what platform you’re using to set up your website. It’s a good place to get help. The second thing is you see how the teams are progressing and that allows you to have accountability for what you are doing.

 

Can’t sing? These undergrads have a karaoke booth just for you

Aayush Tyagi (left), Luofei Chen and Noah Adriany have launched Oki Karaoke, a startup that hopes to bring soundproof karaoke pods to the U.S.
Luofei Chen (center), a student in the Management, Entrepreneurship and Technology Program (M.E.T.), has joined with Aayush Tyagi (left), and Noah Adriany (right) to bring soundproof karaoke pods to the U.S. (UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi)

During a trip to China last year, Luofei Chen arrived at the airport a few hours early. Spying a soundproof karaoke booth, he decided to pop in and kill some time singing.

“I thought I’d spend 15 minutes in it. I ended up using it for an hour and a half. I think I was the last person to get on the plane,” says Chen, a freshman in the rigorous Management, Entrepreneurship and Technology (M.E.T.) program, which awards students two undergraduate degrees—one from Berkeley Haas and one from Berkeley Engineering—in four years.

Chen, who has always enjoyed karaoke with friends, says he got hooked on the fun of singing by himself. The karaoke booth, he adds, felt “like singing in the shower, but with better equipment.”

So, when he got back to the United States, he huddled with his roommate Noah Adriany, a first-year architecture major at Berkeley who also loves karaoke, and the two decided to find a way to bring soundproof karaoke pods, already popular across Asia, to U.S. airports and shopping malls.

Six months later, their startup, Oki Karaoke, is manufacturing its first karaoke booth, and it’s on track to arrive in California from China in May. This summer, the students will pilot test the booth in the Westfield San Francisco Centre in downtown San Francisco.

Dorm development

Their mission began in their Unit 2 residence hall, where Chen and Adriany invested their own money, about $1,000, to build a rudimentary prototype — an open karaoke booth equipped with a computer tablet and a video screen that plays music videos. They spent more than 40 hours a week for two weeks creating it in a makerspace in the campus’s Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation. Then, they installed the pod in their dorm’s lounge and used it to do research on the residents

A prototype of the soundproof glass karaoke booth being manufactured by Berkeley students
A prototype of the soundproof glass karaoke booth being manufactured by Berkeley students that will be installed in Westfield San Francisco Centre (Image courtesy of Luofei Chen)

“People really responded to being spontaneous and singing whenever they wanted to,” Adriany says. “We tracked up to 1.5 hours of singing every day with the 18-to-25-year-old age group during the two months we had the prototype installed.”

After the team took down the prototype in February, they moved forward with a plan to design Oki Karaoke’s first commercial soundproof karaoke booth. The 8-foot-tall booth, roomy enough for a maximum of four people, will have privacy options, such as curtains, for singers and will feature a video screen and a library of more than 1,000 English-language songs. Customers will be charged by the minute; further pricing details are in the works.

“Our target customers range from solo singers to a few friends to couples hanging out in the mall,” says Chen, who speaks Mandarin, prefers pop tunes and wants to add songs in Chinese to the library soon.

Mentors move it forward

Mentors, along with $5,000 in seed funding from Haas’ Trione Student Venture Fund, are helping to move Oki Karaoke forward.

Stephen Torres, a Berkeley Engineering lecturer who teaches in the M.E.T. program, helped the founders develop their idea. Torres then introduced them to alumni Kai Huang, who earned a B.A. in computer science in 1994, and his brother, Charles, who graduated in 1993 with a B.A. in both economics and Asian studies. The pair co-created the blockbuster Guitar Hero games.

“They’ve gone through a lot of the same things we’re going through now with everything from licensing to manufacturing, and they’re helping us to build our company,” Chen says.

Help from Berkeley LAUNCH

The team, which now includes a third co-founder, Aayush Tyagi, a Berkeley junior majoring in electrical engineering and computer science, is currently participating in Berkeley LAUNCH, the UC-wide startup accelerator and competition designed to transform early-stage startups into fundable companies.

Rhonda Shrader, executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program and who serves on the LAUNCH faculty, said business models like Oki Karaoke’s don’t automatically translate from one part of the world — like China, where solo karaoke booths are in wide use — to another.

“Applying the skills they’ve learned in the LAUNCH accelerator can help them mitigate the risk and get to success more quickly,” Shrader says.

Oki Karaoke’s founders plan to stay in Berkeley this summer to work on the business and participate in Real Startup, a Bay Area entrepreneurship program that works with companies like Google, Warner Music Group and Apple to mentor students interested in music, media or entertainment technology.

With their first booth on its way, the founders are looking forward to getting customer feedback. “If we can prove that our pod works and that people love it, then we can possibly get the money to build 10, 20 or 40 more booths,” Chen says.

He adds that he’s excited to get the Oki Karaoke booth rolled out for altruistic reasons, too.

“Singing is a way to happiness,” Chen says. “It’s a very easy way to have fun.”

 

NOTE: Antoinette Siu contributed to this article.

Inaugural class of M.E.T. students prepare to study business and engineering

Students in the inaugural M.E.T. class.
The inaugural M.E.T. class (Photo: copyright Noah Berger)

Growing up in the Silicon Valley, Arvind Sridhar says he always had the feeling that he could change the world. In high school, he pursued research in biomedical engineering and worked on tissue regeneration projects for organ replacement, using high-level computer code and programs to analyze his tissue data.

On top of that, Sridhar founded a nonprofit organization that promotes geographic literacy in schools. “I really enjoyed the experience of leading an organization from its inception and making the tough decisions,” said Sridhar, who graduated from Bellarmine Preparatory in San Jose in May 2017.

When it came time to apply to college, Sridhar feared he’d have to choose between tech or pursuing his entrepreneurial bent in a business program. But his timing was right: Sridhar will study both fields as one of 40 students welcomed this week into the new Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology (M.E.T.) program at UC Berkeley.

Arvind Sridhar, a first year in the new M.E.T. program at Haas.
Arvind Sridhar, incoming M.E.T. student

“M.E.T. will lay the groundwork for the next generation of entrepreneurs, CEOs, and Silicon Valley leaders,” said Marjorie DeGraca, executive director of the M.E.T. program.  “These students will study together in a tight-knit cohort, learning from each other and from close mentoring relationships from top faculty in both schools.”

The program, a collaboration between the Haas School of Business and the UC Berkeley College of Engineering, grants graduates two degrees—in business and in engineering—in four years, with the goal of providing deep leadership and technology skills.

A less than 3 percent acceptance rate

The M.E.T. program is highly competitive, drawing about 2,500 applications for just 40 slots in the inaugural class—an acceptance rate of less than 3 percent. The class is 30 percent women, with students enrolling from 12 states across all regions of the US and from four other countries.

Undergrads who are admitted to M.E.T. combine business courses with one of three engineering tracks: electrical engineering & computer sciences; industrial engineering & operations research; or mechanical engineering. They spend time in class at both schools throughout the four years.

During a Haas welcome session and tour this week, students discussed the meaning of the Berkeley-Haas Defining Principles (Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, Beyond Yourself) with Erika Walker, assistant dean of the Haas undergraduate program.

Female M.E.T. students raise hands at orientation.
The M.E.T. program acceptance rate is less than 3 percent.

Walker explained what the students needed to know to thrive as undergraduate business majors, while other staff members highlighted the many resources available to them—including study-abroad programs, case competitions, the Berkeley-Haas Entrepreneurship Program, and the Dean’s Seed Fund for startups.  When asked whether they planned to get involved with a startup, most students raised their hands.

“We’re all motivated”

Helen Tang, who worked throughout high school at nonprofit Givology that connects online donors to students and grassroots projects worldwide, said she’s been impressed by the diversity and enthusiasm of the M.E.T. cohort.  There are people from all experiences and all walks of life here. And we’re all motivated,” she said.

M.E.T. student Helen Tang
Helen Tang

That’s surely true for Abhi Samantapudi, who served as state president of Michigan’s DECA business club for high school students, worked as a business analyst at startup Hindsight, and started a nonprofit, recruiting 14 volunteers who tutor kids in Detroit’s public schools. In M.E.T., he will focus on electrical engineering & computer science.

“This week has really been extraordinary,” he said. “Almost no other school provides an opportunity to bond with such a smart group of kids and provide the personalized attention we’ve had from the staff. It feels like a really tight-knit community.”

A donor-funded program with an influential champion

The M.E.T. program is funded entirely by donors, with more than $15 million raised for the program through contributions from a variety of individuals, including alumni of the two programs and members of the tech community. Michael Grimes, electrical engineering/computer sciences (EECS) 87, who is head of Global Technology Investment Banking at Morgan Stanley and the founder of the M.E.T. Program, welcomed the students during several orientation sessions.

M.E.T. is designed to fast-track technology careers, Grimes said. The program is already gaining attention among Grimes’ Silicon Valley brethren: Kleiner Perkins announced it will give an interview to every incoming M.E.T. student for its prestigious fellowship.

“Typically students seeking an advanced career in technology management first focus on earning an engineering undergraduate degree, get hired, then return to school for an MBA,” Grimes said. “M.E.T. speeds up the process by turning nine years into four.”

Michael Grimes, M.E.T. program founder, chats with students
Michael Grimes, M.E.T. program founder, chats with students. (with program director Marjorie DeGraca)

Ryan Scholes, who joins the program from Virginia and is enrolled in the industrial engineering track, said he was planning to go to graduate school, but says now there’s an option to do just four years.

And while UC Berkeley students in the past have managed to complete dual degrees in both business and engineering as undergraduates, they’ve done it independently, taking on an intense course load with little coordination between the business and engineering programs. “With M.E.T., we’ve brought together a community of like-minded peers, and will provide them with hands-on opportunities that connect everything they’re learning in a unified experience,” DeGraca said.

Sridhar said he’s found the experience incredible so far. “I feel like this program was created just for me,” he said.

Undergrads embrace Defining Principles

As the cohort of M.E.T. students acclimated to campus, a total of 356 new Berkeley-Haas undergraduates continued their orientation this week, gathering at Andersen Auditorium this week for a welcome from Dean Rich Lyons and to learn more about life at Haas.

The acceptance rate for the incoming undergrad class was 14% and the class includes 259 continuing and 97 transfer students. The Berkeley students have an average GPA of 3.7, while the average among transfers is 3.9. The class is 46 percent women.

“These students are clearly engaged and super motivated and excited to learn,” Walker said. “We’re so excited for what they will achieve over the next two years.”

Following the session, the entire auditorium stood, raised their right hands, and pledged: As a member of the Haas community, I pledge to be a Student Always, think Beyond Myself, Question the Status Quo, have Confidence without Attitude, and be Invested in Integrity. 

Walker then asked students to share their reflections of the day. “They all spoke about how engaging in the conversation (about the Defining Principles) made them feel a part of the community—and that it was a real community that cared,” she said.

 

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